Guns and the Real Problem

In the wake of Las Vegas shootings … this chart seems to indicate the “gun” issue is not highly correlated with the problem. Gun laws, to quote a Harvard study, are an inelastic means of controlling gun violence and the violence isn’t very well correlated with where the guns live. (and given the existence of those who “collect” stamps, guns and other things, just “counting” guns is a poor metric)

David Brin in his series of books of the “Uplift Universe” postulated among other things a push (required for species survival) to understand human sanity at a level beyond our current ability. In this universe, a psychotic shooter could, in inter-species/intra-galactic polity, damn the human race to extinction or slavery instead of just killing a number of dozens of people. For that reason, psychological tests were developed to insure that any human (sapient actually) going off planet had to be known, certified, and understood to be, well, sane. One might wonder if that sort of test or understanding is possible or plausible.

It would be more useful if, in the wake of these sorts of incidents, cries of “guns are the problem” and “guns aren’t the problem … instead pointed out that people going bug-nutz crazy is the real problem and that our treatment of the mentally ill in our society is just slightly, ever so slightly, better than debtor prison was in the 18th century as a way of treating insolvency.

So. Lets’ talk about the psychosis/depression/insanity crises not the gun one.

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4 comments

  1. Boonton@gmail.com says:

    I don’t have the numbers on hand but I’ve heard if you restrict yourself to non-gun homicides (knives, blunt objects, etc.) the US is pretty much comparable to other countries. When it comes to gun homicides, though, it is much higher than other comparable countries. If the problem is that the US has or produces more people who ‘just go nuts’, you would expect the violence rate to be high no matter what tool was used to execute the violence.

    This is an area where 2nd amendment partisans are unable to think coherently. The reason guns were invented was to make it easier to kill. Guns are a tool that are very good at doing what they are designed to do. That is why no army in the world arms its troops with knives instead of guns…even though ‘knives can kill too’ and are much cheaper.

  2. Boonton says:

    Also I’m going to challenge you on our treatment of the mentally ill. In fact we spend quite a bit on treating the mentally ill well and our society today is very open to mental illness and avoiding being judgmental of it. If you don’t believe that consider someone telling you they are stigmatized at their job because they let it slip they have a therapist. If you heard this you might wonder if the person had slipped through a time warp from 1965. Most places today saying that would lead to people asking whether you’d recommend your therapist rather than bashing you for going to one.

    After Columbine there was a huge effort to find ‘trenchcoat mafia’ types. Goth kids, kids who were dour, sour, moody, frowny, into heavy metal, D&D, etc. were harassed by counselors hoping to ‘help’. Today we have a huge anti-bullying movement that was originally premised on the idea that the two school shooters were victims of bullying by jocks (thankfully that movement transitioned into seeing that bullying is worth countering to address suicide and depression). Only problem, the Columbine kids were not in the ‘trenchcoat mafia’, they were different kids who graduated before them. They were not bullied by jocks.

    Las Vegas is almost a case study in why this mental health approach does not work. Here you have a successful man with absolutely no social media presence who just killed scores of people one day. There is no big data set that is going to yield you any reliable indicator that will let you intervene ahead of time. My personal theory is that when people ‘snap’, they have a habit of reverting to cultural narratives. I suspect more than a few ISIS inspired terrorists, for example, are actually what you term ‘mental illness’. The only difference is that ‘white guys’ who snap revert to a cultural narrative either of obscure theories/ideologies or none at all while Muslims who do revert to the ‘jihadi’ one.

    But in order to catch such people ahead of time you need to develop a detection mechanism that does NOT end up sweeping in all types of false positives. In other words, making all the kids who wear black goth clothes go to psychologists after Columbine didn’t stop any new school shootings, it just wastes a lot of time and money at best and at worst ruins kids lives by labelling ones who did nothing and wouldn’t do anything as ‘disturbed’. But does such a detection mechanism even exist?

    If you have a radioactive element with a very long half life, you know every year so many atoms will decay but you also know there is no mechanism that can tell you which atoms will be the ones that will ‘snap’ this year. With so many difference cases combined with the fact that nonetheless mass shooters are infrequent we have no reason to think that we are dealing with anything different.

  3. Mark says:

    Boonton,

    Also I’m going to challenge you on our treatment of the mentally ill. In fact we spend quite a bit on treating the mentally ill well and our society today is very open to mental illness and avoiding being judgmental of it.

    My wife runs one night at a homeless shelter. Don’t tell me the mentally ill are not stigmatized nor have readily available help. We might be spending money, but we aren’t doing very much effectively.

    After Columbine there was a huge effort to find ‘trenchcoat mafia’ types. Goth kids, kids who were dour, sour, moody, frowny, into heavy metal, D&D, etc. were harassed by counselors hoping to ‘help’.

    Odd that you’d notice that the knee jerk mental health solutions are worthless and don’t notice the anti-gun ones are equally specious. What the anti-gun movement fails to notice (there was a 548 article pointing it out) was that the accidental and violent deaths due to guns are dwarfed by the events where guns save lives by preventing attacks and crimes.

    I suspect more than a few ISIS inspired terrorists, for example, are actually what you term ‘mental illness’. The only difference is that ‘white guys’ who snap revert to a cultural narrative either of obscure theories/ideologies or none at all while Muslims who do revert to the ‘jihadi’ one.

    Well that’s an argument for Mr Trumps immigration notions. Odd coming from the left, I’d think.

  4. Boonton@gmail.com says:

    The only problem you have is there is not a single shred of evidence that mental illness had anything to do with the attack. The shooter had no known history of problems, no clear evidence of problems. He had ample resources and if he had put himself into treatment of one type or another he wouldn’t have encountered any stigma (even the first season of The Sopranos couldn’t maintain the ‘stigma’ around mental health treatment narrative).

    Note back when Benghazi happened you went loopy on the assertion that it was a reaction to an anti-Muslim video posted on YouTube, despite a lot of evidence for it. Yet you have embraced the idea that this act of terrorism was caused by mental illness when in fact the evidence so far suggests a shooter who was perfectly sane. Unlike, say, the Newtown shooting, nothing about this shooter until the moment he started shooting indicated a mental problem.

    “My wife runs one night at a homeless shelter. Don’t tell me the mentally ill are not stigmatized nor have readily available help”

    Curious we rarely encounter terrorism from the mentally ill homeless. Subtract criminal activity related to homelessness (stealing food, loitering) or drug addiction and you almost never hear about the homeless causing problems.

    “Odd that you’d notice that the knee jerk mental health solutions are worthless and don’t notice the anti-gun ones are equally specious. What the anti-gun movement fails to notice (there was a 548 article pointing it out) was that the accidental and violent deaths due to guns are dwarfed by the events where guns save lives by preventing attacks and crimes.”

    If a few modest anti-gun regulations prevented a small portion of suicides, accidental deaths and even a few criminal acts the amount of people saved would dwarf those who died in the Las Vegas attack. But granted given the fact that this guy was perfectly sane, perfectly well behaved previously he wouldn’t have had any problem amassing his gun collection and carrying out the attack even if all of the regulations ever proposed by Obama were in place for the last ten years. That indicates, does it not, that there is no ‘2nd amendment problem’ here?

    But then we are both on the same page. If we had some good mental health policies AND some decent gun regulation it is quite possible thousands of lives would be saved but nonetheless some or all of these high profile shootings would still have happened.

    “Well that’s an argument for Mr Trumps immigration notions. Odd coming from the left, I’d think.”

    You mean a ‘Muslim ban’ that does not cover Egypt or Saudi Arabia but does cover North Korea and Venezuela? Given that half of the terrorism the US experiences is also driven by white non-Muslims should he also be articulate a ‘white ban’? Or given that nearly 100% of terrorism comes from men perhaps a female only policy?